Small Businesses Need ‘Soft Loans’

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The Ebola epidemic is still pounding the Liberian economy as many small, medium size businesses struggle from the impact of the virus. The disease has killed nearly 3,000 people in Liberia alone, but its catastrophic impact on businesses is more of a worry.

Many small businesses have shut down due to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak, creating further setbacks to the already shrinking Liberian economy.

In an interview recently with a local toiletries manufacturer in Paynesville City, outside Monrovia, the Daily Observer Business Desk was told that the company has not only reduced its staff and production, but also faces grim prospects of a strong comeback without soft financial loan or bailout funds.

Mr. Fomba Trawally, CEO, National Toiletries, said he can no longer afford to manufacture the quantity of toiletries which he used to produce prior to the Ebola virus outbreak, owing to a number of reasons. One of these is the closure of the borders with neighboring countries, which he said has hampered cross-border importation of raw materials and also the subsequent export of goods available by road to other countries.

“We are hurt by the closure of the border because we can no longer bring in the needed raw materials, neither are we able to export our finished products,” Mr. Trawally said in a statement, adding that local sales have plummeted considerably, ever since government began taking measures to restrict travels at the country’s borders, in order to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

“Local hotels and other big businesses have since stopped buying our toiletries and other sanitary materials,” he said, “because border closures with neighboring countries are making a heavy impact on our business. Now we can no longer import a number of much-needed raw materials and finished products from countries like La Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea. We are also not able to sell to our clients in these countries or import materials from other countries outside of Africa, such as Turkey,” Mr. Trawally told the Daily Observer.

 Fomba has struggled to maintain and grow the small business which he inherited from his mother Madam Kumba Bendu, which he named ‘Kumba Bendu &Sons’. The entity sells imported cosmetics and other products.

But since venturing into manufacturing business a few years ago, Fomba, who is also president of Concerned Liberian International Business Organization (COLINBO), has prospects of being one of Africa’s biggest entrepreneurs and has said “My aim is to grow far bigger than what we have here.”

With his toiletries business valued at over US$4 million, Fomba said that the Ebola virus outbreak has introduced a fresh challenge he never expected before. “As an individual, the Ebola outbreak placed me in a state of confusion. I did not know how and who to downsize among my small staff.  It made me reduce the time I spent with my family and had to spend more time thinking about how to keep my business running and operational,” he added.

Mr. Trawally says he needs a soft loan or financial bailout to rescue his business from the losses being incurred by the Ebola outbreak. “We need a loan or a form of financial bailout which will to a large extent help us to restructure our business. This will help us create new employment opportunities which will subsequently lead to an increase in production,” he said.

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